SPONSORED:

Biden must wait weekend for State Department pick

Biden must wait weekend for State Department pick
© AFP

President Biden’s promise to bring the U.S. back to the global stage is being delayed — at least by a few days — in the Senate, where his nominee for secretary of State, Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenSenators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Overnight Health Care: Experts warn US risks delaying 'normal' summer | Alabama GOP governor extends mask mandate | Senate votes to take up relief bill Republicans demand arms embargo on Iran after militia strikes in Iraq MORE, is in confirmation limbo.

Some Senate Democrats have criticized the delay, arguing the Senate should already have had a vote on his confirmation.

“The secretary of State is fourth in the line of succession. Leaving that office vacant is irresponsible,” Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden holds off punishing Saudi crown prince, despite US intel Senate confirms Thomas-Greenfield as UN ambassador The Memo: Biden bets big on immigration MORE (D-N.J.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in floor remarks on Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT

The White House on Friday appeared to downplay the delay while thanking the Senate for confirming Biden’s pick for the Pentagon.

“I know that our Secretary of State is just about to get confirmed, or so Sen. [Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] tells us,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiOn The Money: Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill | Stocks sink after Powell fails to appease jittery traders | February jobs report to provide first measure of Biden economy Biden called off second military target in Syria minutes before strike: report White House says Shalanda Young could serve as acting OMB director MORE said.

It’s been a chaotic few weeks in the Senate, where the power shifted Wednesday when three new Democratic senators were sworn in — including the two who won runoff elections in Georgia earlier this month — along with Vice President Harris.

Harris will cast the tie-breaking vote in the 50-50 Senate, giving Democrats the majority.

But Democrats and Republicans have not agreed on organization rules for the Senate, meaning Republicans still have majorities on some committees.

Battles over the election also contributed to a slow pace on nominations.

The Senate did confirm Biden’s pick as his director of national intelligence, Avril HainesAvril HainesThe intelligence community must evolve with the information age Duckworth calls for Russian bounties intelligence to be declassified Intelligence official says Khashoggi report 'obviously' will challenge Saudi relationship MORE, on Thursday. On Friday, it confirmed Secretary of Defense Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Biden called off second military target in Syria minutes before strike: report Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal MORE.

ADVERTISEMENT

Blinken could be confirmed early next week, and Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) said there should be a strong bipartisan interest in confirming him.

Monday is the earliest a confirmation vote can happen, according to a Republican Senate aide, who said Risch is working to achieve unanimous consent from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to allow the confirmation vote to proceed.

If unanimous consent is not reached, the full committee would vote Monday evening on whether to send Blinken’s confirmation to the Senate floor for a vote. 

Another reason Blinken’s nomination has been delayed is that committee members are working to review his answers to at least 780 questions submitted by lawmakers. Blinken also took part in a nearly five-hour hearing on Tuesday.

In comparison, 550 written questions were submitted to former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE’s last secretary of State, Mike PompeoMike PompeoPompeo not ruling out 2024 White House bid Houthis: US sanctions prolonging war in Yemen China plays the Trump card, but Biden is not buying it MORE. Trump’s first nominee, Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonLawmakers to roll out legislation reorganizing State cyber office New State Department cyber bureau stirs opposition Blinken tells State Department staff 'I have your back' MORE, was given 715.

Secretaries of State John KerryJohn KerryEconomic growth in Africa will not be achieved by a blanket ban on fossil fuels Biden can build on Pope Francis's visit to Iraq OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton brings up 'Freedom Fries' to mock 'cancel culture' Edie Falco to play Hillary Clinton in Clinton impeachment series White House defends Biden's 'Neanderthal thinking' remark on masks MORE, who both served in the Obama administration, had to answer 291 and 498 questions, respectively. 

The Republican aide defended the number of questions.

“The chairman does not like to ask questions just to ask questions, they were all substantive, at least the questions that we submitted,” the aide said.

The aide added that the committee is on pace to move Blinken’s nomination faster than Tillerson’s. He was confirmed nearly three weeks after his marathon hearing before the committee. 

“Risch supports unprecedented actions, including a [unanimous consent] agreement that would bypass regular order of the committee,” the Republican aide said of Blinken’s confirmation. 

Absent a confirmed secretary, the State Department is being run by director of the Foreign Service Institute Daniel Smith.

James Dobbins, a senior fellow with the RAND Corporation and who has served as assistant secretary of state for Europe, said the delay on Blinken’s confirmation vote is not “extraordinary at this point, but if it lingered for a few more days, it would become unusual.” 

“The secretary of State is the face of American diplomacy and the person to whom the people who are responsible for the diplomacy of other countries turn to,” he said.

“I think it delays the normalization of relations between the United States and its allies. Also it can delay dealing with, probably not the most urgent problems, but pressing problems with adversaries and other countries as well,” he added.  

ADVERTISEMENT

Foreign diplomats are eager to engage with Blinken, the Biden administration and their senior staff, after months of a strict no-contact policy between the transition team and foreign governments.

“Obviously there’s a little bit of excitement in capitals, and people wanting to talk to people, and it further delays that,” said one European diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous to speak candidly. 

“It is what it is – it’s just another few days, after a couple of months of not being able to engage with the President of the United States team.”

Despite not having his full team in place, Biden is pushing forward on signing a stack of executive orders that include reversing foreign policy actions by the Trump administration.

This includes rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Paris Climate Agreement, steps welcomed by U.S. allies.

“WHO is a family of nations and we are all glad that the United States is staying in the family,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization said during the first meeting with Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci: 'Very nice' that Trump told people to get vaccinated at CPAC Neanderthal museum weighs in on Biden mask comments Abbott defends scrapping mask mandate: It 'isn't going to make that big of a change' MORE, Biden’s envoy to the WHO. 

Biden is relying on his national security council to engage with close U.S. allies over pressing issues related to Russia, North Korea, Iran and China.

ADVERTISEMENT

Jake SullivanJake SullivanFireEye finds evidence Chinese hackers exploited Microsoft email app flaw since January A Biden stumble on China? Iran, hostages and déjà vu — Biden needs to do better MORE, Biden’s national security adviser, held separate introductory calls with senior national security officials from France, Germany and the United Kingdom discussing issues related to China, Iran and Russia.

Sullivan also held a call with the secretary general of Japan’s national security secretariat. Their conversation focused on challenges from COVID-19, China and North Korea. 

One of the most urgent matters that Blinken is expected to address if confirmed is working with Congress to extend the New START nuclear treaty with Russia. It expires Feb. 5. 

The treaty imposes limits on each country’s nuclear weapons arsenal and allows for inspections on both sides to verify compliance. 

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday that the president wants to extend the treaty for five years, an announcement that Russia welcomed. 

Blinken, in his confirmation hearing, noted the treaty as one of the first orders of business he would come to the Senate to work on extending. 

“What I can tell you is that I know we will be coming to you very quickly, almost immediately to discuss that,” he said.